Accessibility links

Hindu Activists Flock to Site of Planned Temple - 2002-02-28

Thousands of Hindu activists have converged on the northern Indian town, Ayodhya, where they say they will soon begin construction of a Hindu temple next to the ruins of a 16th Century mosque. India's government is trying to stop the activists and tensions are high - especially after more than 50 Hindu activists were killed by Muslims, Wednesday, in India's western Gujarat State.

Hindu activists in the town say they will build their temple, despite government and court orders prohibiting the construction.

For nearly 10 years, carvers at a dusty workshop in Ayodhya - an ancient temple city about 500 kilometers east of New Delhi - have been carving sandstone pillars, arches and statues of Hindu gods. They say he pieces will soon be part of a temple dedicated to the Hindu Lord Ram, near the ruins of the 16th Century Babri Masjid Mosque.

In a violent 1992 demonstration, Hindu activists demolished the mosque. The activists say the mosque was built on top of a Hindu temple dedicated to Lord Ram and marks his birthplace. Their new Ram Temple - as proponents call it - would be built next to the site of the destroyed mosque, on land the Indian Government has acquired in recent years. The Hindus say they eventually want to build a Ram Temple on top of the destroyed mosque.

India's courts have blocked construction at the site. The Indian Supreme Court is expected to uphold the ban on construction, in a judgment expected in early March. That has angered the Hindu activists.

Prakash Awasthi is in charge of the workshops carving pieces for the proposed Ram temple. He says he and other Hindu activists will begin construction of a new temple on March 15 - no matter what the court says.

Prakash Awasthi says much of the temple is ready to be assembled and that he and the other activists answer to a higher authority than the supreme court.

Thousands of Hindu activists have poured into Ayodhya, in recent days. Many belong to the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, or World Hindu Council. Vinoy Katiyar is a local VHP leader and a member of parliament, from Faisabad - just next to Ayodhya. He says not only will the VHP activists defy India's courts, they also reject their once-close ally, Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee. The Indian leader has called on the activists to abandon their temple-construction plans.

Like the other VHP activists, Vinoy Katiyar says the issue is one of faith.

Ten years ago, when Hindu activists demolished the Babri Masjid Mosque, more than 2,000 people died in subsequent rioting and bombing, across India. Now there are fears of more violence, if construction of the Ram Temple goes ahead. Many leading members of India's Muslim community have denounced the temple construction plans and say India's future as a secular state will be jeopardized, if the temple is built.

Maulana Sajad Nomani is an Islamic scholar and member of the Muslim Law Board Society, in nearby Lucknow. He says some of India's diversity will be lost, if the temple construction goes ahead.

"I think these Hindu activists sometimes forget the fact that our country is a country of diversity. It cannot be a strong nation until it recognizes and all of us recognize this fact, whether we are Hindus, Muslims or Sikhs. We should recognize that India is a country of diversity and we should find our unity in diversity," he said.

Maulana Sajad Nomani says there is a danger of violence from some members of the Muslim community, if the Ram Temple is built. However, he says it will be a minority of Muslims who engage in violence. He says that - just just like the Hindu activists who want to build a Ram Temple in Ayodhya - Muslims who react violently represent a minority of their community.